ASL

Author Interview-Amanda McDonough

Amanda McDonough

Amanda McDonough

Amanda McDonough was born in 1990 and diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of 4. As she grew older, her hearing steadily declined as she battled to hide her ongoing hearing loss from her family, friends, teachers, and the world. Despite facing unbelievable challenges, she succeeded in; getting straight A’s in school, having a successful child acting career, and leading a fairly “normal” life. But one day, during the most difficult part of her college career, she awoke to discover that her remaining hearing was completely gone. She had lost 100% of her hearing in both ears. All of a sudden, she was unable to communicate with the people around her. She did not know sign language, could no longer speak well, and could not lip read. She became isolated from the world and had to finally face her hearing loss, accept that she was deaf, and find a way to finish college without being able to hear. She found the strength to teach herself to talk well again, to lip-read, and to use sign language and set out on an emotional rollercoaster ride to discover who she was and who she wanted to become. As a late deafened adult Amanda pursued higher education at California Polytechnic University, Pomona where she received her Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Business Administration- International Business and Marketing Management, with an emphasis in Entertainment Marketing.
McDonough currently resides in Los Angeles, California and enjoys successful inspirational speaking and acting careers. Amanda’s recent television, theater and film credits include: ABC's "Speechless," NBC’s “Bad Judge,” ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth,” Chris Lilly’s Pilot series “Just Us Guys,” "Our Town" with Tony nominated Deaf West Theater and films such as “Listen” directed by Michaela Higgins and "Silent Star" directed by Steven Sanders. Her films "Passengers," "Loud and Clear, " and "Lady Electric" have gone on to show in various festivals (such as Cannes) and win awards.  Amanda's life story has even been the subject of documentaries such as USC's "Amanda" and radio broadcast stories such as KCRW's "Silence."" She has also been interviewed about her life and upcoming book by NBC News and Fox News, as well as for dozens of online articles and blogs.

Marina Raydun: You hid your hearing loss from those around you growing up. Looking back at it now, why do you think you chose to do that?

Amanda McDonough: I started losing my hearing when I was only 4 years old. At that time, there weren’t any openly hard of hearing role models in the mainstream media for me to look up to. I was young. I had no exposure to any Deaf people who could show me that life without hearing would be ok. So, out of fear, I chose to hide my hearing loss. I did the best I could to “fit in” with my hearing peers and hearing family. I tried to ignore my struggles and hope they would go away. It took me 18 years to realize that wasn’t the best course of action.  

MR: What would you say to a hard of hearing child who may be contemplating doing the same?

AM: Don’t. The biggest loss I suffered as a child wasn’t the loss of my hearing, it was the loss of the opportunity to figure out who I actually was. By hiding my hearing loss and constantly acting the way I thought society wanted me to act I delayed my opportunity to find my identity. I also missed out on opportunities to meet other people like me, to gain full access to education, to learn sign language, to benefit from Deaf culture, and even to receive college scholarships.

Be you. There is no better person to be.

MR: You’d been losing your hearing slowly over about two decades and often escaped into your imagination. Is that when you first started writing?

AM: I never saw myself as a writer prior to writing my first book. I even put off “Ready to be Heard” for nearly a full year after the publisher’s requested I write it. It wasn’t until I realized that other people could benefit from my personal struggles and my unique perspective that I started writing and learned that I actually loved it!

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MR: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?

AM: Language and words have always been powerful for me. Art using language has always been an outlet that I turned to during rough moments in my life. I loved books growing up, theater, poetry, music, and lyrics. Learning Sign Language, however, was a completely other worldly experience for me. It led me to my identity, provided me with support, culture, friends, accessibility, and hope. After all, is there anything more powerful than belonging and being able to share your thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly to a group of peers willing to “listen?”

MR: How did learning American Sign Language as an adult affect your appreciation for careful word choice? Did it affect your writing?

AM: Absolutely! Learning ASL has allowed me to see the world through new eyes! It definitely effected how I wrote my book. Learning the language and the culture, that comes with it, gave me the vocabulary to explaining how I identified at different points in my life and in my hearing loss journey. I started the journey as Hard of Hearing, became deaf, and then chose to identify as Deaf after learning ASL. So, you will see a lot of references to the importance of identity stressed through language and vocabulary (such as little d vs big D- deaf) in “Ready to be Heard.” 

MR: What sort of amplification do you currently use? (Do you use Cochlear implants or hearing aids)

AM: I have 100% natural hearing loss in both ears. I am profoundly deaf with one cochlear implant on the right side of my head.  

MR: What do miss hearing the most when you What is your favorite part about being able to turn it off before going to bed at night? do just that?

AM: My implant helps me navigate a hearing dominated world. However, I love being able to turn off my cochlear implant to enjoy the peace and silence, at will, during the day. Having the option to simply take my implant off makes so many of my life experiences better! For example, the silence benefits sleeping, writing in coffee shops, relaxing on long flights in crowded planes, watching dubbed foreign movies (with captions), walking by construction sites, and being able to nap literally anywhere I want! Being Deaf definitely has its perks!

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

AM: I get these amazing letters, emails, and messages from kids and adults, that I have never met, telling me that they related to something in my book, were empowered, or felt less alone after reading “Ready to be Heard.” That is success to me. I set out to help others. Naturally, I would like to reach as many people as possible with my story in the hopes that it can impact them. I definitely wouldn’t be against making the New York Times Best Sellers List, being on Oprah’s recommended reading list, explaining hearing loss to Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show, or watching the film adaptation of my life. However, at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is that my work leaves a positive mark on the lives of others.

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve received?

AM: My “best” review is actually hilarious! It was one of the very first Amazon reviews I ever received. My mother sometimes uses my Amazon account to order things for herself and my dad. When “Ready to be Heard” came out, she wanted to leave me a review. So, my mom, logged onto MY Amazon Prime account, wrote a beautiful review of MY book with MY name as the reviewer! When someone brought the review to my attention, I laughed for a good 15 minutes, then decided to leave it up as private joke.

I recently received my “worst” book review. All my reviews before this one had been 5 stars; so, when I saw the 2 stars my heart sunk at first. Then I read the review and found myself grateful. I could have been upset that someone didn’t love my work. Yet, I chose to see this review as a gift. It reminded me that not everyone is going to like my book and that is ok. Life isn’t perfect. I am definitely not perfect. I still have a lot of learning and growing to do, so I take all the good reviews and the “bad” reviews and chose to learn from them.

 MR: You were an actress before you were a writer. How is your artistic process similar across the two media?

AM: As an actress I have always been a story teller. My job has always been to bring scripts to life and help people experience new characters, emotions, perspectives, and worlds. Writing is similar in that I am still the storyteller; the difference is that I use my words and personal experience as the tool to get the story across instead of my acting skills.

 MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

AM: I have learned so much from this experience! I have had some amazing mentors to help guide me, but there is nothing like learning by doing. I threw out the first two full 300-page drafts of “Ready to be Heard.” Those drafts helped me figured out what worked for me and what didn’t as a writer. I was then finally able to develop the writing process for myself that I used to write the published version and some day will use to write other book.

MR: Were your book to be adapted into a movie, who would play you?

AM: Is Betty White available? Just kidding. A film adaptation of “Ready to be Heard” is a future possibility; so, I’ll definitely need to start seriously contemplating this question. Any suggestions?

 To learn more about Amanda’s book, please visit:

www.ReadyToBeHeard.com

To keep in touch with Amanda, please visit:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBERhpWcbrcDEsM0A0D36rg

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/officialamandamcdonough/

            http://www.facebook.com/readytobeheard

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ActingAmanda

            http://www.twitter.com/readytobeheard

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amanda_mcdonough/   https://www.instagram.com/readytobeheard

 

 

 

Glossing

I never related well to peers growing up. I gravitated toward adults, always. Now that I'm that adult, it's tricky. Surrounded by college freshmen week after week, I forget sometimes that they were my kid's age when I graduated from college. I love these kids and will miss them an unreasonable amount, but I can't say I'm not bitter at how much faster they learn. I'm competitive.

I am learning American Sign Language. The reasons I went back to school having long ago secured a doctorate degree are personal and so I'm keeping the entire experience such. All my projects and presentations so far have been autobiographical and personal in nature, and when it came to selecting a song to interpret for my final exam, I picked End Game  by Into the Presence-a song many may not know but one of tremendous personal meaning to me. Explaining why would not only divulge too much personal information but also be taking me off topic. Suffice it to say, the song is significance to me. I discovered it by accident. I saw Lisa Marie Presley perform live at New York City's City Winery in 2013 and when she introduced her bassist (Luis Carlos Maldonado), she mentioned that he had a band of his own. I looked up Into the Presence in a few days later, which also happened to be the day my live suddenly became gut wrenchingly hard, and downloaded its album and single. It was there for me when I needed it to be and I'd been grateful ever since. So back in September, when my professor first told us we were going to be interpreting a song for our final presentation, I'd contacted Luis, asking for complete lyrics. Graciously, he shared them. Unfortunately (or fortunately!), my professor postponed this assignment until we had not one but two semesters of ASL under our collective belt, so here I am, trying to remind myself that I'm not quite as good an actress as I imagine myself to be as I record take after take on my iPhone X. 

I'm a freelance writer and translator, often taking on translation gigs of various size and complexity. I translate English to Russian and Russian to English. I've translated a play, I've translated subtitles, I've translated a short story, I've translated legal guides. What I'm saying is, I'm not foreign to taking material composed in one language, making sense of the essence of it, and then recording that meaning in a different language, and yet, I found this assignment unreasonably difficult. ASL is its own language, with its own grammar and syntax, and still I kept falling back on practically transliterating the lyrics verbatim, word for word, while my professor kept reiterating that what I was supposed to be doing was glossing. Glossing is what we call it when we write down one language in another. It's called glossing of a language because the target language may not have equivalent words to represent the original language. The result is what's called "gloss." What I was supposed to be doing was to go after the meaning of the text and represent that in American Sign Language, in proper ASL word order.

My problem was in the word "meaning." I'm an educated woman, a writer, and yet I would not rephrase "lying in stone" or "soldier and horse." I say "would" because I could, I just wouldn't. Obviously, there is no physical soldier or horse in the song. And there are no stones. It's an internal battle depicted lyrically. Like in an A.P. English class in high school, there I sat with my lined paper, taking stanzas apart. This exercise is the most important key to interpreting a song in ASL, but I still felt like I needed permission to stray from the original English words written by Luis. "But what is he trying to say when he says, 'with every turn I risk the end of the game'?" my professor would ask. "There is no game, right? You can't sign 'game'-no one's playing 'Mortal Combat' here." She was right. It's a visual, literal language, so I couldn't sign "turn," and I couldn't sign "game." Instead, I we compromised on, "Every challenge, closer to finish." 

"But is it okay to stray from the text?" Seventeen older than most people in the class and here I was, arguing with the assignment.

Once I got rolling, and signing, I felt this giddy sensation take root in the pit of my stomach. It felt right-like I was creating a beautiful dance conveying the meaning of one of my favorite songs. Like I was discovering the song for myself all over again. My initial reservations were assuaged when the assignment finally clicked. I wasn't disrespecting the text. I had to remind myself that once the words are written and published, they no longer belong to the author, be it an essay, a novel, or a song. Once it's out, the word lives and breathes, and those on the receiving end are free to interpret your meaning as they see fit. And they'll do so through their own lens, whether you like it or hate it. They won't ask you. And technically, they shouldn't have to. 

I have intimate experience with this. Right before my novel Effortless was published, I was asked to do a guest blog as part of building publicity for the release. The topic I was asked to discuss was how I balance writing and parenting. It was an interesting question but it wasn't particularly challenging because I knew exactly what I was going to write as soon as the request came in. I wrote that it was simple for me: as much as I love writing, it comes second to my kids. Because absolutely nothing comes before them. I believe the words I used were, "my children are not an inconvenience I have to manage." The article was generally well received, but there were a couple of women who took these as fighting words. I was apparently guilting "working" mothers, accusing them of not making their children a priority in favor of their careers. No matter how I tried to explain that nowhere did I say or even meant to say that, those who wanted to believe their version did not want to hear it, no matter how much I brought them back to the original text. It stung, I won't lie, but I had to remind myself that as readers, we all perceive information through our own set of preconceptions, our own set of goggles. I do it too, I'm sure. Perhaps someone felt envious that I was able to put my career second to my kids. Maybe someone struggled with their own guilt as they made choices that were second guessed by their own environment, and here I was with my article, putting salt on the wound, saying how easy it was for me to make that decision. No matter the reason, my reader was the interpreter, and as the author, I was no longer in control. You can only hope that when it's all said and done, your audience will give you the benefit of the doubt, hunker down and try to get to your authentic meaning, putting their own prejudices aside instead of projecting. I'm very careful nowadays to do just that.

With this reflection, I eventually made my peace with my ASL II final: I have the right to interpret the beautiful poetry Luis Carlos Maldonado penned, but it comes with a responsibility to do justice to the original. That's pressure. And I'm competitive.